What makes a good job application? Reflections on the +50 applications for the Esc internship.

I have just reviewed over 50 applications for our paid Sales & Marketing Internship. If you were one of the people who applied – thank you!

I’m sorry we don’t have the time to interview more of you. Many of you were extremely well-suited to the position and would have done an excellent job.

Context for those of you who didn’t apply, we were seeking candidates looking for startup experience, people interested in sales, marketing, and business development. Ideally they would be looking for a full-time job and would use this role to help them get it. Here is the original job listing.

The aim of the post is to share the main reasons why some applications grabbed our attention and received invitations to interview and why others didn’t. I know too well how demoralising job hunting can be and hope that the information below helps to increase your success rates when applying for jobs.

The best applications…

  • … specifically answered the questions we requested in the instructions (we asked: Where are you currently at in your career? What are you aiming to achieve over the next 1-2 years?).
  • … followed the other steps requested in the instructions (we asked: please complete your Escape profile – and let us know – and, for extra points, please give us feedback on the Escape profiles).
  • … clearly explained where the candidate was currently based, when they would be available from, and why they were in a position to take on an 8-week internship.
  • … kept the covering email brief. Even excellently written long cover letters are a challenge for an employer reviewing dozens and dozens of applications.
  • … were in well-constructed English written with personality and humour and were clearly written specifically for this role at Escape the City.
  • … clearly articulated excitement about the role and Escape the City and the candidate worked to match their skills and values to our specific business and the role.
  • … flattered Escape the City (hey, we’re only human) and talked about our concept, business and story in such a way that proved they were actively engaged.
  • … acknowledged the fact that they understood that the role would involve lots of graft and unglamorous work and that they were up for the challenge.
  • … were quirky without being plain weird! Some candidates can take the ‘be yourself’ thing too far and can lead the employer to worry they’d be hard to manage.

The weaker applications…

  • … weren’t clear on how the applicant would be able to take up the position immediately if they were currently in a full-time job or doing part-time work.
  • … showcased skills that, whilst in the right business development / sales area, were much more advanced than the level required for an internship position.
  • … were from candidates in full-time education who didn’t explain how they would be able to do the internship alongside their studies.
  • … were from candidates who articulated different career aspirations to the ones that the job listing explained we were seeking for this role.
  • … contained spelling mistakes (sometimes in the opening line – “form”/”from”), formatting inconsistencies, and sentences that weren’t fluent English.
  • … were sometimes written entirely in lower case. it is totally fine to be informal, esp. for a startup, but accurate punctuation represents attention to detail.
  • … had cover letters that didn’t mention Escape the City once and the only conclusion for us was that they must have been ‘copy and paste’ jobs.
  • … addressed us as “hiring managers”. This makes you sound like a robot (and it makes the human reviewing your application feel like one).
  • … copied and pasted the same cover letter into the email twice (or didn’t write a covering note at all, just enclosed their CV).
  • … didn’t contain a CV that showed a clear timeline from graduation to 2014. Nothing wrong with gaps in your CV, just make it easy to follow.

NB. Many of the people we were unable to interview did none of these things above and we still weren’t able to ask them in for the next round – if this was you, I’m sorry! I wish we had more time to meet people and more roles available (maybe one day!).

Make it easy for the employer

Ultimately most roles worth applying for have far more applicants than there are positions. This means that (sad to say) at the application review stage – employers are looking for reasons to discount your application. Don’t give them any!!

De-risk yourself as a candidate.

Employers don’t want to take a gamble, they want to fill a position with someone who they know will be low-maintenance and will hit the ground running. So tell them what they want to hear.

How do you know what they want to hear?

They outlined it in the job description… so use that as your starting point for the cover letter.

Plus, don’t give them any excuse to freak out about your location, your language skills, your attention to detail, your wacky-hard-to-manage character, the fact that you are over-qualified or under-qualified for the role, whether you can make the start date, or what you’ve been up to these past few years.

Keep your head up

Finally, I guess you can remind yourself that it’s a relatively unfair numbers game.

I know that won’t make not getting an interview any better but I read through these +50 applications today and well over 30 of the candidates would have done an excellent job with us, would have fitted right in, and would have gained some excellent experience.

In the ideal world I’d hire an army of paid interns and we’d have an absolute ball. Unfortunately only one person is going to get the role this time around (the role will repeat throughout the year, so do apply again) and, as a v. small team, we can’t do lots of interviews (only 6 to start with).

The other bit of advice is that applying for a highly visible role on Escape the City does mean you’re up against lots of other people. I don’t think you should stop applying for jobs on job boards, but certainly going direct to employers that that aren’t advertising is a good 2nd option.

The challenge is that you then have to persuade an employer to give you a chance or to allow you to deliver a project (for free perhaps) when they’re not even looking for someone. The upside is that if you do get a dialogue going with them – you’re competing against a pool of one… you!

Thanks again for applying.

I’ll leave this here for now.

We heard from some amazing people – career changers, aspiring entrepreneurs, high-paid corporate escapees, graduates determined to avoid the city – the common thread was people who weren’t prepared to settle for a boring career. It was extremely inspirational to spend a morning reading all your applications.

Thanks so much for applying and for all the warmth and enthusiasm for Escape the City. The feedback about Escape Profiles was really valuable as well and we really appreciate you taking the time to apply.

If you applied for this position and were one of the people unable to start immediately, please do consider reapplying later in the year. We will keep you on file but if and when you are available and you see the role being advertised again, just resend us your application.


If you want to receive new Escape the City blog posts directly into your inbox just click here. We write about leaving big corporates, pursuing alternative careers, building businesses, and going on big adventures. We are hard at work over on the main site building Escape Profiles that help people make big career changes and find jobs that matter to them.

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www.escapethecity.org – Do Something Different!

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